I BEG YOUR PARDON?
Rahul’s campaign to capture Uttar Pradesh kicks off amid controversy
Rahul Gandhi’s impassioned plea to Uttar Pradesh voters for change while launching his party’s campaign for the Assembly elections in 2012 has ended up giving opponents a handle to berate him for “insulting” the people. “For how long will you beg in Maharashtra or work as labourers in Punjab? When are you going to change the government here? Tell me right now. I want a reply. Let us all join hands to bring about the change,” the Congress general secretary told people in Phulpur, Allahabad, on November 14.
Congress’s rivals quickly latched on to Gandhi’s statement. “The people of Uttar Pradesh are diligent and selfrespecting. Gandhi has insulted them by calling them beggars,” said S.P. Maurya, the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party’s state president. State BJP President S.P. Shahi said the Congress general secretary’s statement was “shameful”. “The Congress should realise that people from Uttar Pradesh had a big role to play in the develop- ment of states like Maharashtra and Punjab. They will not tolerate this insult and give a fitting rebuff to the Congress in the forthcoming Assembly elections,” he said.
The statement resonated in Maharashtra, one of the states Gandhi had named, uniting even the estranged Thackeray cousins. While Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena’s executive president, alleged that Gandhi was sowing discord among different communities in the country, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena President Raj Thackeray blamed the Gandhi family for Uttar Pradesh’s backwardness. “If Rahul Gandhi feels pity for the youths of Uttar Pradesh, he should take them to his house. When Shiv Sena takes a stand in favour of Maharashtrians, the party is accused of being parochial. What would you call him?” Uddhav said. “Congress ruled Uttar Pradesh for more than 50 years. Who had stopped the Gandhis? Their failure to develop the state has become a headache for Maharashtra,” said Raj.
The Phulpur rally was high on symbolism and intent on regaining lost CONGRESS LEADERS STOPTWO YOUNGSTERS
WHO BREACHED RAHULGANDHI’S SECURITY glory. Held on Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday and in a former Congress bastion which had returned Nehru thrice to the Lok Sabha, Gandhi, his greatgrandson, opened by invoking the legacy of India’s first prime minister and how it has been laid waste: “Uttar Pradesh once showed the way. Now, the state is backward. Nehruji was once an MP from here but now mafia and criminal elements become MPS.” The Congress general secretary signalled that the party means business this time, with him leading the charge in the state. If there was still any doubt about it, a banner at the rally venue said it all: “Nehru ji ko yaad karenge, Rahul ji ke saath chalenge (we’ll remember Nehru and walk with Rahul).”
Gandhi’s opening salvo carried a strong defence of his numerous visits to homes of poor people in the state. “The people of Uttar Pradesh taught me that to become a leader, one has to go to them. Until a leader doesn’t eat in the house of a poor man, he won’t understand his problems. Until he drinks
water from a poor man’s well and suffers a stomach upset, he won’t understand the pain of poverty. Unless a leader doesn’t understand the feelings of the poor, he cannot get angry.”
The Congress scion swiftly brought Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati and Samajwadi Party ( SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav into the loop.
“For how long will you beg in Maharashtra or work as labourers in Punjab? When are you going to change the government here? Tell me right now. I want a reply. Let us all join hands to bring about the change.”
Congress General Secretary
“Once upon a time, Mayawatiji and Mulayamji had this type of anger, but today it is dead. Now they are hungry for power by any means.”
Gandhi then criticised the two leaders. He flayed the Mayawati government for “misusing” Central development funds, especially for Bundelkhand, the area he has been focusing on in recent times. “The Centre gave this region a special package of Rs 7,000 crore but it did not result in any tangible work on the ground. The chief minister toured various parts of the state but did not care to go to the area reeling under severe drought,” he said. He also accused the Mayawati government of snatching land from poor farmers in the name of acquisition for development and handing them over to builders to reap profits. “Farmers are paid a pittance and those who protest, like in Bhatta-parsaul and Tappal, get bullets,” he said. On Mulayam, Gandhi said the SP regime was marked by mafia and criminals running police stations.
While Gandhi targeted both Mayawati and Mulayam to emphasise the Congress’s equidistance from its principal rivals in the state, two activists of Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha, the SP’S students’ wing, were manhandled by Union ministers Jitin Prasada and R.P.N. Singh and Congress Legislature Party leader in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Pramod Tiwari. The two, identified as Abhishek Yadav and Anil Yadav, had broken through the security cordon carrying black flags and raised anti-congress slogans soon after Gandhi’s helicopter had landed at the rally venue. Akhilesh Yadav, the state
SP president, had announced earlier that his party will show the Congress leader a mirror to himself.
While Prasada and Tiwari were unavailable for comment, R.P.N. Singh expressed shock at the boys being let off later. “It’s the two boys, not me, who should apologise. I was only defending a member of the Gandhi family,” he said. He wondered how such a major lapse of security could have occurred. “The police and the government are working together to target the Congress,” he said.
with Kiran Tare and Shravya Jain